Catch-up: 'Did the right man resign?' Williamson asked

Education secretary faced gasps and groans from MPs as he defended the Department for Education's school catch-up plan in Parliament today

Amy Gibbons

Gavin Williamson

"Sir Kevan Collins has a distinguished 30-year career in education, while the secretary of state has spent 18 months presiding over nothing but blunders.

"So does the secretary of state think that the right man resigned?"

It certainly won't have been Gavin Williamson's favourite question of the afternoon.

But there was no running from the killer line delivered by Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper, which was just one of a series of scathing comments about last week's catch-up announcement.

Mr Williamson's defence of those plans today prompted murmurs, gasps and groans from the scattering of socially distanced MPs gathered today on the green benches.

Exclusive: Sir Kevan Collins resigns over catch-up plan

Unions: Catch-up plan a 'paltry', 'disappointing' 'damp squib'

Background: No extended school day in new £1.4bn catch-up plan

The education secretary did not offer a direct response to Ms Cooper's question, rather opting for the line: "We're very grateful for the work that Sir Kevan has done."

Sir Kevan's resignation as catch-up tsar

In the wake of the resignation of the government's education recovery tsar, it was inevitable that Mr Williamson would face tricky questions over the scale of his department's catch-up investment.

And the atmosphere was predictably hostile when he stood up to face MPs in the Commons this afternoon.

Many of the comments referenced the department's failure to secure even a tenth of the £15 billion in catch-up funds it had requested from the Treasury.

Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant "how disappointed he was not to get the full amount that he wants" for the recovery plan, Mr Williamson started by complimenting the member for Rhondda on his "incredibly eloquent" speech.

But the education secretary's subsequent reference to the "substantial investment" by the Department for Education (DfE) to date prompted Mr Bryant to shout out in protest, sitting back in his seat and crossing his arms.

And it wasn't the only heated moment of this afternoon's session.

When he spoke of his ambition to ask  "like all secretaries of state"  for a "little bit more" cash, Mr Williamson's words were met with groans from the chamber.

Meanwhile, opposition MPs spoke with thinly veiled contempt about the DfE's catch-up investment.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green told the Commons: "The government failed children and young people. They were promised that their education was the prime minister's number one priority but they've been betrayed by a secretary of state who has let them down once again, and by a prime minister who won't lift a finger for them when it comes to a row with the chancellor about prioritising the investment needed in their future.

"I was frankly embarrassed to hear the secretary of state proclaim that the funding announced last week would deliver a revolution – from what his government announced it'll amount to just £50 per pupil for the next three years compared to £1,600 in the USA, £2,500 in the Netherlands."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Clive Efford asked if Mr Williamson thought the former recovery tsar asked for "too much money", adding: "Why is it that he thinks he knows better than Kevan Collins?"

And former Labour minister Dame Angela Eagle said she would give Mr Williamson an "F for fail".

She told MPs: "Why are the secretary of state's powers of persuasion so inadequate that he's only been able to persuade the chancellor to fund a mere one 10th of Sir Kevan Collins' admirable catch-up plan?

"Don't children deserve a better champion fighting their corner than this secretary of state and his risible efforts, which are letting children down across the country?

"If I was marking his homework, I would give him an F for fail."

Responding, Mr Williamson said: "We are investing heavily in teacher quality so it’s very doubtful that she'd ever get the opportunity to be a teacher."

He claimed Labour has opposed nearly all of the government's education reforms, adding the opposition will "merely parrot what the union paymasters ask it to do".

He also told the Commons: "Helping our children recover from the impact of the pandemic is an absolute priority. Pupils, parents and staff have all experienced disruption and we know that continuous actions are required to help recover lost learning."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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